|These are the letters we have been sending to family
and friends since we started with the dates they were sent.
We have been at sea for 24 hours and are enjoying gentle
sailing in sunny conditions and almost flat seas. We had to motor for the
first 20 hours but with a flat sea it was a good introduction for everyone
and an easy first night threading our way through the oil rigs and fishing
boats. No ships seen now since first light - just plenty of clean ocean.
Jan 17th 2000 9am
Off Mainic Village - Banton Isl. 12 55N 122 03E 1st. Feb.
A pictures worth thousand words....
Boracay 11'57N 121'57E, We have almost been here a week
now, and had only had one day of weather from the brochure, but that day
produced a most amazing sunset. For the last three days we have been rolling
heavily at anchor with dark skies and occasional showers. Boracay is almost
deserted when it should be busy. I don't know how much it has affected
business, but most of the coral reefs are a mess, the combined effects
of bleaching in the hot summer of 98 and crown of thorns attacks have destroyed
all the corals areas we have dived so far. but even then they are interesting,
we end up looking more closely and seeing things we usually miss.
We left Boracay last Tuesday afternoon planning to sail
overnight to Cuyo, about 90 miles. As we left it was blowing 15-20kts,
but we stopped the engine as soon as we were clear of the reefs and headed
SW into the sunset. initially we made 4-5 kts through the water, but the
wind increased steadily and by early evening we were making 8-9 kts with
25+kts of wind. The chart plotter said we would be at Cuyo in only 8 hours
but it was not comfortable, we even rolled a side deck into the water on
one wave and that takes big roll with Sea Biscuit. So again we changed
our plan and sought shelter behind the little island of Sibay, approaching
very cautiously to find a suitable anchorage. In the morning our spot was
less sheltered so we upped anchor and moved five miles west to the other
end of the island to the west of a big reef area.(11 51N 121 29E) It blew
30+kts so we were there for another three days, going ashore for walks
on the beach where we found many of the shells being sold in shops on Boracay.
Sibay has no town or even real village - just small groups of huts on each
beach area. So no power, no shops, no schools. They fish when the weather
is better and collect copra from their coconut plantations. But many still
spoke good english and were as friendly as ever. Their nearest stores are
on Mindoro island, 5 hours away by banca in settled weather. Pauline and
Hamish dived from the boat, checking the anchor and enjoying the best underwater
visibility we have seen this trip.
Pt. Bonbonon, Negros 9 03N, 122 07E
Pt. Bonbonon, Negros Oriental
We have been anchored here for about ten days since we sailed down from
Cebu. Our next destination is Kota Kinabalu in Malaysia, but we have delayed
our departure for several reasons. 1. It is very easy to stay here
, where there is company of some dozen other yachts with people living
on them, a convenient store/bar with good cheap meals, and some interesting
diving just outside the anchorage.
So we are also doing work on SB4, Pauline has started stripping varnish from the coachhouse and replacing with a stain finish, I have touched up the hull where paint has come off. We have installed some fans and more mosquito nets - although there are almost no mosquitoes here.
This bay has an almost predictable NE wind during the day, fading in
late afternoon to a glassy calm most nights. The wind during te day
would be ideal for our crossing the Sulu Sea, but I expect it will not
reach far enough offshore - The Sulu sea is 350 miles wide from here to
Balabac at the south end of Palawan. Tubbataha is about half way
across - well isolated from any larger islands which is why it has
remained less disturbed.
We had our first real thunderstorm Monday night, no doubt many more to come.
In Cebu we had a piece of wood cut and carved to cover the "Sydney" on our Stern with Hong Kong and pictures of two sea biscuits - well done work but unfortunately we found the wood had worm ! So it is off the boat and now decorates the store on the jetty here, and we will still be taken for Ozzies.
Should be at Tubbataha Thursday early and KK Sunday 16th.
Cooking the Biscuit in the Sunny Sulu Sea
Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia (6,03 N, 116,07E)
Thank you to all for the emails reminding me of the birthday - I kept it quiet and did nothing wild here to celebrate, the trip itself is enough.
So you last heard from us on our way out to Tubbataha about ten days
ago. We arrived off the reef very early the Thursday morning, luckily the
south end was marked by a well-lit dive boat as the light house is not
working - and appears to have been derelict for some years. At first light
the dive boat left, perhaps for another part of the reef since it stretches
about 30 miles to the north. We picked up one of several very substantial
moorings provided by the japanese government from the markings on them.
Without a guide we looked carefully to see where the current was slack
and Anne and I made the first dive from the dinghy about 1km from
SB4. As soon as we looked over the wall edge we could see 2 sharks
far below resting on a shelf, the visibility was at least 60m - the best
I've seen anywhere. As we followed the slight current back towards te yacht
we found 6 more sharks, all resting at the same depth we were so we saw
them much closer and could confirm they were white tips, known for resting
on sandy patches during the day. There were good sized fish swimming right
next to the sharks without the sharks showing any interest so if their
close neighbours were calm we could be also. We also saw two turtles
and a huge range of fish, many in bigger sizes than we see elsewhere.
Then we set course for the Balabac channel between the S end of Palawan and the NE corner of Sabah, an area said to abound with smugglers , pirates etc. There was no wind - a very glassy sea - but it was easy to motor at a steady 7kts and we reached Balabac Saturday morning, seeing no activity of any kind ( and neither have the many yachts we have spoken to) and after 48hrs arrived here in Kota Kinabalu, having a great view of The Mountain at dawn.
Here we are anchored off the local Shangri-la hotel which allows us to use their pools and facilities - both Anne and Sean met kids from their schools at the hotel for Easter.
Anne agreed to tackle the mountain - since it is Low's Peak it seems to be something we should do. But it meant being up at 6am Thursday to get a bus up to the park, meet our guide and start the walk up through the rain forest towards the mountain. The weather was cool enough but as the air thinned we both found it hard work and became quite slow before we reached the huts mid afternoon having covered only 6km ! So we relaxed and talked with some of the 97 others who had walked up the same day, before early bed to be ready for a 2am alarm to have a first breakfast before starting for the summit at 3am. Since everyone is planning to be at the top for sunrise the path is an almost continuous line of climbers with torches. The path quickly becomes wooden ladders or steep steps, and then a continuous rope as all plant cover stops and the top 800m of the mountain is a bare granite dome. Luckily it was dry so secure underfoot. The top of the mountain has about 10 separate summits, mostly near vertical stacks of fantastic shapes, fortunately the highest is more gentle and no more than a scramble. We were at the top (4089m/13600ft) to see the sunrise, with quite a crowd of others. Anne had doubted herself and insisted on going no further several times, but she made it and is very pleased she did. She even thanked me for bullying her to the top - but hasn't forgiven me for taking her to start with !
Now we must decide whether to go to Mulu caves in Sarawak, it seems better we fly from here than take the boat to Sarawak, or Brunei. Sara T should be coming down to see us next week for hers and Anne's B'day, and then we will be heading back to Palawan in the Philippines.
From the Mountain Biscuits
Dalawan Bay, Balabac Isl. 7,53N 117,04E
Sara T was with us from her's and Annes Birthdays until yesterday, and
we got to know KK and Sabah much better on several tours with her in cars
and trains. I had taken the kids to Mulu caves, that was different.
There are four caves open to visitors, all quite different. The Lang cave
is most caves elsewhere having superb stalactites and flowstone in fanastic
shapes, especially hanging folded curtains of stone. The deer cave
is humungous, easily big enough to fit several catherdrals into, and stinks
of bat shit. From outside we watched the millions of bats fly out
for their evening of bug hunting, they appear to flow out in a flying tube
that writhes in the air. We also watched a hawk picking off the stragglers.
So yesterday was the day to leave, after filling our fuel tanks at the
very low prices and running aground on a sand bank near the fuel barge.
As the tide was falling it was a troubling 10 minutes before we managed
to reverse off with just lost paint from the sole of the keel band to show
Again we revised our plans underway as we had set a course up thr west
coast of Palawan towards El Nido, but with a roboust F4/5 of monsoon that
coast looked too treachrous as it has few anchorages and many reefs and
is poorly charted. (We have been told several times that there are still
undiscovered wrecks of galleons to be found on the W coast of Palawan -
it has always been hazardous to navigate and remains remote)
The sail here was some of the best we've had and unexpected. Also unexpected was that when I started the generator at 6am it did not sound right, no water coming out. So had to find out how to change the pump impellor, not too hard but another sweaty hours work in the engine room, in a rolly 2m sea. The impellor had lost one vane and it was blocking the pipe, once replaced it works well again.
The sweaty Biscuits
It's alright, we are at anchor in TayTay, the old Spanish capital of Palawan where we can see the old fort and town. Last night we were inside S.Verde Island which was not our preferred anchorage but forced on us by fading light. Although a reef protected us from the south the swell diffracted round the end and hit us from a different direction to the light wind so we rolled all night and were happy to leave at 6am for todays trip. Pauline tied off the throttle about 7am when we were clear and no one touched it till 70 miles later we were almost here. There was little wind and we needed to cover some miles, but the inside route was interesting and Anne made several groups of shots to fix our position and set the new course.
We did spend 3 days in Puerto Princessa where we found the best market yet, there was everything with very friendly sales people and the biggest fish we have ever seen, must have been 2m Tuna +.
We could have spent more time there but we are getting near our time limit, so we need to press on to Coron to dive the wrecks there, and on back to Puerto Galera to plan our trip home to HK.
Tonight Pauline reported we have 2 red wine bladders, 1 white, 2 bottles
of champagne and about 8 bottles of red so we seem well stocked for the
last six weeks ! We had great steaks toight from beef
norman bought in HK in December - the freezer system works very well
for stuff buried deep.
Motoring North on a Biscuit
Coron 12 N 120,12 E
28 May 2000
Two weeks ago now we took a family group from a coastal village out to an island 15 miles out. There was the father and several of his 5 daughters some grandchildren and friends. They had bought crabs with them and it was a fun day, Generoso, the father, confided in me he knew where japanese WWII gold was buried on the island, but I have not been let in on several 'secret' locations for this gold - they all seem to know where it is but none of the dig it up !
Their village has no electric power, but had clear ideas of how they would benefit from it, so we left them our spare petrol genset that we had acquired with the boat. A bit rusty but working so we hope that will help them.
From my last mail from Verde Islad we motored to Taytay, the old spanish capital of Palawan with a fort and old church. There at a small pizza restaurant overlooking the town we were told of Flower Island, a small resort on a private island about 30 miles NE of Taytay. So on leaving we went to look for the island without complete directions as none of the names we were given appear on the chart. We spotted it behind some very extensive pearl farms and after finding a way around anchored off the resort. The owners are two french brothers, the setting is idyllic if isolated, they accomadate 10 guests max, and will open a dive centre in a few months. We took their future dive master for his first dive on their reef as he had no tanks or compressor yet. The reef was very intersting - it will be good when he is set up.
At Flower island we met several people from a volunteer reef survey team based on nearby Cagdanao island where the CoralCay conservation group take 30 volunteers at a time who pay to spend 3 months living in huts on a remote island performing a detailed survey off the reefs. They spoke of the awkwardness of being guests in the area and so being able to say nothing about the cyanide and dynamite fishing the saw and heard , often at very close range. Palawan seems to suffer more from destructive fishing than other areas we have been to.
We dived at Cagdanao where despite the fishing methods there was great diversity for fish and other marine life. On the motor to Taytay we saw more dolphins very close to the boat, racing us along - so there is hope.
We had a very smooth overnight trip to Coron, no wind and glassy sea, arriving a sunrise to the very dramatic scenary here. Coron island is hard limetsone westhered into steep sharp pinnacles with several lakes inside. We dived one lake after a rough climb over a ridge, wearing dive gear and tanks just for fun. The lake was notable for a temperature inversion - the surface was a warm 30c, but at 15m down there is a shimmering boundary layer below which the water is almost 40c. It feels too hot at first and we swam between layers as we swam round looking for the few fish and shrimps that tolerate it. The sides of the lake looked just the same as above, pinnacles of bare rain eroded limestone, good evidence that the sea level was once much lower.
Coron town owes most of its tourist trade to the diving on a fleet of
Japanese fleet supply ships sunk one morning in 1944 by US planes.
With 7 wrecks and 5 dive shops its not unusual to share a wreck with another
The ships have been scoured for loose souvenirs and scrap years ago
so they are just steel hulls, but good wide spaces to swim through between
holds, engine rooms, and superstructures. On them are plenty of corals
and fish, we found two more species of Nudibranches we had not see before
and flatworms we had not seen swimming before - they size and shape of
a brightly coloures elastoplast and undulate their edges to swim.
We are leaving here this afternoon for an overnight trip of 100 miles
to Boracay but we will move along next week through Tablas and Banton to
be back at Puerto Galera by the end of the week.
Best wishes from the
Puerto Galera, 13:30N 120:56E
We are back to PG to get ready for the crossing back to HK later in the month, but we had more excitement on the trip here from Boracay than we expected. We planned to take three days to have time to dive near some of the islands on the way, and the first Island we headed for was Romblon which we missed going south. The wind was very light from the east so we motored in very flat water. We were disturbed when the forward bilge alarm sounded for the first time, it took a few seconds to work out what it was. The cause was that the automatic pump switch had failed - the hull has always leaked some but with the automatic pump we never noticed how much. Till I can replace the float switch we have to run the pump manually once or twice a day.
We got to Romblon rather late in the day and found our planned anchorage was too deep until we were very close to the beach, but there was no light to find another and the wind was very light. However about 10pm thunderstorms developed with plenty of wind and we dragged the anchor into deep water and the GPS anchor alarm went off. (Since Clinton switched off the built in errors "SA" in civilian GPS on May 1st our GPS anchor alarm has been much more effective) After 30 minutes motoring around we re-anchored but still very near shore and when wind changed to a light westerly we swung too close and decided at about 1am to set to sea again. All was well motoring gently for two hours until another alarm went off, this time the engine water temperature - a sensor I had thought was broken. So we had to stop the motor and hoist sails. Very fortunately there was a light but favourable wind since we close to rocks at the north end of Tablas island. The engine room was too full of steam to do anything immediately so we sailed north west at about 4 kts with ferries and freighters passing as we were in a major shipping route from the southern islands to Manila.
I worked in the engine room once it was day, but could manage about
10min at a time - it was very hot still. I found the impellor was
broken and that a steel bracket for the heat exchanger had been welded
to the engine after the pump was last serviced - there was not enough room
to get a new impellor in ! I tried cutting an impellor into two slices,
it went it but would not prime instelf, so Had to cut off the offending
bracket. After 12 hours sailing the motor was running cool again, but we
had covered a good distance under sail and in the riht direction. But we
thought we better get to PG without further delay, though we could not
make it that day, so looked for an anchoarge on the East coats of Mindoro,
even though the pilot book says that are none. But again in early
evening the wind was very light and the sea flat so Pola bay looked good,
better than Romblon as the bay was evenly sloping from 4m to 20m over mud.
But again thunder deveoped at night with a stiff NE wind and we were on
a lee shore with a short fierce chop. The anchor held firm but none
of us slept well for a second night. Friday things went better with
a big tide under us we went up the Verde Island channel to PG at an effective
8kts and anchored back in the same spot we left 4 months ago, but surprisingly
still a NE wind.
The well-alerted Biscuits
12 June 2000
We plan to leave here in about 10 days for the 4-5 day trip back to
Last Wednesday Pauline and Sean took the ferry to Batangas to meet Adelina for lunch, they also bought the gas we needed to refill the fridge/freezer. That seems to be working again now but we have not found the leak yet.
The weather seems hotter now since there is rarely any wind, Sean and I sleep on deck now where it is cooler at night. There are still thunderstorms around most nights but usually they pass in the distance.
You may see reports that an Englishman was lost diving here in PG last week, it happened the day we arrived when the tides and currents were very strong and he became separated from his group at 30m while he was trying to refix his fin that had come off. Searchs were made for 4 days with planes, boats and helicopters but nothing found. It is thought he never surfaced. The main cause was that the group was too large for the supervision as most of them were less experienced and conditions were very tricky.
We are taking great care underwater!
Diving for Biscuits
The forecast we can get by being very patient at the towns internet cafe is very promising for a good SAIL back to HK. We will see, we will leave Friday and with a possible short stop in Bolinao should get back to HK next Wednesday. There is at least on other yacht here preparing to sail to HK, this is about the last chance before typhoons become quite frequent.
I did the final mechanical checking yesterday and Anne and I went up
one mast each to check the rigging - no problems found there. Pauline
did most of the stores buying we need and stored it away, just veg to buy
Today we will go to Asia Divers for final dives, we have two sites we
want to take pictures. Firstly to find more nudibranchs (colourful
sea slugs) and then to find an elusive harlequin ghost pipefish. I saw
plenty of life I wanted to video on several dives last week but never had
the camera as I was still doing the course and was leading divers.
Since I did the quick course there were no real student divers for me to
supervise, so I had the dive shop staff instead and they 'played' students
by wandering off if I turned away, making every mistake possible and generally
keeping me challenged. Herding cats would have been easier (even underwater!)
However I completed the divemaster course at the weekend and had the divemaster
party Monday, four cases of San Mig disappeared in a short time.
Sailor caught something live last night but wouldn't let us see it, a fish or a bat we guess. Can't see any remains yet !
25 June 16 51N 119 20 E
Never did get through y'day so that mail is below. We did get
into Bolinao last night but not until 9pm, we were delayed avoiding the
worst of two thunderstorms so we had to feel our way in in the dark, but
GPS chart plotter and sonar proved their worth.
So we left at noon today and quickly had sail up and left the Philippine
coast with the big gennaker flying. Now it is down as we were headed
but still motor sailing 320 degrees back to HK with ETA Wed. afternoon/evening.
24 June, off coast W coast of Luzon between Capones and Hermana Major
We left PG yesterday lunch time with a forcast of S 15-20kts for the whole S China sea and 2M swells. The Verde channel was flat, no wind and that is about all we have seen since. Briefly after midnight there was some offshore wind during Pauline's watch and she had us sailing, but it was just draft from a collapsing thunderstrom and did not last long. Now it is 10am, getting hot with the sea glassy, only broken by flying fish who can go much further when the water is so calm.
HEard another forcast on Rowdy's breakfast net on shortwave this morning, he says SW or WSW 5 to 10 kts. Even the 5 kts is more than we have but we are still near the coast. The engine is running well, my water leak repairs are holding and we have plenty of fuel.
We passed another yacht 'Rigel' at dawn , they had left PG for HK a day a head of us but were heading back into Subic to repair a broken gearbox. We were called on the VHF radio by Philippine Navy coast watch, but it seems they just wanted to say Good Morning ! Not the usual interogation.
I've been playing cards with Sean , but I just suggested it was time for handwriting and Maths and he has disappeared !
We are all pleased that today was our first day without taking Malaria tablets since mid April - we have had quite enough of that foul taste.
So by sundown we hope to get to Bolinao, a small port on the bit of Luzon that sticks out towards HK. I've never been and it sounds interesting, then tommorrow we can start for HK and still expect to be there Wednesday.
It may be the most taxing job today is to change the selection of CD's
in the cartridge and get something we have not heard too often already,
or never really wanted to hear at all.
Biscuits - sunny-side up
Clearwater Bay Marina, 29 June
Unfortunately the trip is over, we got back into our berth in the marina at lunch time yesterday having motored or motor sailed all the way from Bolinao. Not the sail we would have liked but I didn't want to wait for typhoon to get some wind ! The sea was so flat coming back that not even Sailor was seasick.
The biggest excitement was finding a bloom of Tricho, a type of blue/geen algae we have been surveying on the trip. The researchers we were collecting the data for had said if we found a bloom - like a red tide - they would take pictures from a satellite to help them calibrate their system. After looking for 5 months we finally found a big bloom on the way back, and the satellite pictures are being processed.
Easier to appreciate is that we saw pilot whales, more dolphins and great sun rises and sunsets. Anne reckoned she saw the green flash again - I missed it this time.
The total trip was 3250 miles, of which we sailed about 520 with the motor off, but many more were motor-sailed.
Now as Fenella reminded us we must put the album together - Anne has accepted the project of editing the video together. Pauline is in charge of the stills. When I get the interface from the camera to the computer fixed I will update the pictures on the website. I will have Anne & Sean add their own sumaries of the trip there.
What next ? Well the coming weekend is a holiday and the weather
looks good to take the boat out ! Then I have to return to
work Monday and settle back to a more normal routine for some years until
we have a chance to go on another voyage.
Safely returned Biscuits.